Barley Straw for Algae Control – Myth or Miracle?
If you have ever been in our showroom or warehouse you have probably seen a myriad of products with barley in them. We are often asked if barley actually works for controlling algae in a pond, or if it is some kind of hoax. Some customers claim to have used barley straw in their water garden, but it didn’t do anything to kill the algae. After dealing with barley straw for many years we have learned a few things about it.
To start with we should distinguish between natural barley straw and barley extract, since you use the two in different ways. Natural barley straw comes in bales of various sizes, pelleted, or barley flakes. The pelleted barley straw and barley flakes are more concentrated and require much smaller amounts to achieve the same results as barley bales. Natural barley works by simply floating in water and decomposing, thereby giving off various chemicals and attracting protozoa that prevents algae from growing effectively. The barley extract are those chemicals that the natural barley gives off, and is simply collected and bottled from a tub of decomposing natural barley.
There are a few rules when using natural barley:
First, I recommend placing any barley straw, flakes, or pellets into bags before placing them in the pond. Many prepackaged types come with a bag, but not all, and some brands of pellets tell you to just to pour them into the pond. Don’t do it. It just makes a mess in the pond that you don’t need. Buy a small bag from your local pond store or from your local drug store and put the barley in it. Small laundry bags or the leg of an old panty hose work well in a pinch.
Second, Float the barley at or near the surface of the water where it can get air and sunlight, and where the water is flowing past it. The air and sunlight aid in the decomposition process and allows the barley to put out as much of the anti-algae juice as is possible, and the moving water disperses it through out the pond so it can do the most good. I saw one Youtube video where a guy dropped a bail of barley into a stll, stagnant pond and then declared that barley doesn’t work because his pond was still green, but he obviously didn’t know this rule.
Third, barley is not nearly as effective at getting rid of existing algae blooms. It really works best to prevent new blooms of algae, but if your pond is completely green or full of thick layers of stringy algae then, for one thing you probably have other issues to deal with, but the barley is probably not going to clear it up. Place the barley in the pond before things go bad and it will help you have a better pond season.
Lastly, natural barley doesn’t work very well when the water is cold. Since the barley needs to decompose to be effective, and it doesn’t decompose very much when your pond is being refrigerated, then naturally you aren’t going to be doing much damage to the algae growth during the winter months.
Naturally, almost none of these rules apply to barley extract. You don’t have to float anything and you can dose during winter months. Barley extract still isn’t quite as effective against existing algae blooms, but you can give the algae a much stronger dose and expect to see good results. One thing I do like these days is that some companies are adding peat extract to their barley extract. Here in the southwestern US, where Mud Monsters is located, we have very alkaline water right out of the tap, and the peat extract acts as buffer, thereby making the barley extract much more effective. The peat probably isn’t as necessary in other parts of the country, but in this area it can make a huge difference.
So, using barley straw for algae control is not a myth, but is it a miracle? No, it is not a cure-all, and if your pond is badly out of balance then barley is not going to make it look like a million bucks, but if you have everything set up properly and just need that extra kick to keep the algae down then barley could very well be your answer.